Story: Two local theater companies (Equally Represented Arts and Slightly Askew Theatre Ensemble) are collaborating on a modern interpretation of Sophocles’ classic Greek tragedy Antigone. Seven different women portray the title character from a fresh perspective that the companies note “explores themes of fidelity, citizenship, civil disobedience, and the struggles and consequences the characters within the world of the play encounter as a result of their choices.”
In Sophocles’ original, Antigone is sentenced to death by her uncle, King Creon, after she disobeys his edict that the body of her dead brother Polynices remain unburied on the battlefield, to be prey for carrion and the object of public shame.
Polynices and his brother Eteocles had fought on opposite sides in the Theban civil war, killing each other as they battled. Afterward, the newly crowned Creon declared that Eteocles be honored in death but that Polynices be scorned. Antigone implores her sister, Ismene, to help bury their reviled brother, but Ismene timidly refuses.
When Creon learns what Antigone has done, he confronts her, only to hear her say that he is immoral and that, by burying Polynices, she has chosen to obey divine law instead of his wrongheaded decree. Creon then attempts to bury Antigone alive in a cave, but in the process angers his own son, Haemon, her fiancé.
When the blind prophet Tiresias warns Creon that he must appease the gods, whom the king’s actions have displeased, by freeing Antigone, he waits too long before reluctantly agreeing to do so. Antigone subsequently hangs herself, leading to the suicides of both Haemon and Creon’s wife, Eurydice.
Highlights: Director Lucy Cashion and her cast offer a spirited variation on the tragedy that opens it to contemporary analysis and understanding.
Other Info: This version of Antigone, presented as part of SATE’s Season of Ritual, has been in the works for the last few years. The two companies note in their joint news release: “In 2017, Prison Performing Arts (PPA) began a collaboration with Saint Louis University Department of Fine and Performing Arts.
“Lucy Cashion, Assistant Professor of Theatre (and ERA Artistic Director) and PPA Director of Youth Programs (and SATE Artistic Director) Rachel Tibbetts taught weekly poetry, playwriting and development workshops with PPA participants at Women’s Eastern Reception, Diagnostic and Correctional Center (WERDCC) in Vandalia, MO.”
The release continues: “The group studied, explored and wrote about the ancient Greek Princess Antigone. Antigone’s story of fighting civic law to obey divine law became famous in the classical Greek tragedy, Antigone, which premiered in Athens in 441 B.C. Since then, scholars, poets and playwrights have written their own translations, adaptations and critiques of the Antigone story, each from a different point of view.
“The continuation of this tradition resulted in a new version of Antigone, which was performed in Oct. 2017 by SLU theater majors in St. Louis and then with a performance by PPA participants at WERDCC in March 2018. The collaboration now continues with this ERA/SATE co-production in St. Louis.”
This first professional production of the collaboration features Miranda Jagels Félix and Victoria Thomas, both of whom performed in the SLU production, as well as Laura Hulsey, who was a member of the WERDCC version. Hulsey, who was released from WERDCC in 2018, makes a most impressive professional acting debut in this latest incarnation of Antigone.
Each of those three performers portrays Antigone in the first half of this stylishly and cleverly directed 90-minute, one-act effort. Also filling the title role are Alicen Moser, Taleesha Caturah, Ellie Schwetye and Natasha Toro.
All seven performers take on other assignments, too, when this version of Antigone more or less follows the original story in its second half. Moser portrays Creon; Thomas, Ismene; Hulsey, Haemon; Caturah, Tiresias; Schwetye, Cerberus, the three-headed dog that guarded the Greek infernal realm; Toro, Eurydice; and Jagels Félix alone, Antigone.
Toro, Caturah, Hulsey, Schwetye and Marcy Ann Wiegert form the Greek chorus that taunts Creon, while Wiegert provides musical accompaniment as the show’s percussionist, dressed in a funky ceremonial mask courtesy of costume designer Liz Henning, who also decks out the myriad Antigones in similar garments.
Not sure why Cerberus appears here, other than to let Schwetye display her comic chops, which she also does convincingly as a deadpan stand-up comic who comments on the goings-in with a litany of truly terrible, albeit very funny, puns while evincing nary a smile.
The script and the set alike have something for everyone, including some kind of eggs that Schwetye meticulously adds to an overhanging nest during the show. Interpret if you dare.
Cashion’s prior excursions into the classics, including Oedipus Rex, Doctor Faustus and Macbeth, have always been highly imaginative and more than a touch confusing to at least one audience member. This intriguing Antigone fits that mold.
Companies: Equally Represented Arts/Slightly Askew Theatre Ensemble
Venue: The Chapel, 6238 Alexander Drive, St. Louis
Dates: Aug. 30 and 31
Tickets: $15 to $20; call 314-827-5760 or visit brownpapertickets.com